Lampedusa USA to Host Facebook Prayer Vigil

Lampedusa, a small island off the coast of Italy, has become known as thousands of migrants arrive there on their way to Europe. Tragically, many do not make it to the island’s shores alive.

As a way of expressing his solidarity with and concern for migrants traveling to Europe, Pope Francis visited Lampedusa on July 8, 2013. It was during this visit that he coined the phrase ‘globalization of indifference,’ referring to the phenomenon that leads to and compounds migrant crises such as the one the world is currently experiencing.

Lampedusa USA is a Catholic organization created in response to Pope Francis’s call for all to welcome refugees and migrants to the best of their abilities. On July 8, 2016, the organization will be hosting a Facebook prayer vigil to commemorate the Holy Father’s visit to the island and to continue praying for the world’s migrants and refugees.

All are welcome to participate in the vigil, including individuals, congregations, organizations, and colleges or universities. We hope you will join us in prayer for the world’s migrants.

June 20 is World Refugee Day

The world is experiencing the worst refugee crisis since World War II. Around the world there are over 50 million refugees and displaced individuals, 12 million of whom were forced from their homes by the war in Syria. These circumstances demand our attention and action.

In commemoration of World Refugee Day on June 20, Bridging Refugee Youth and Children’s Services (BRYCS), a division of USCCB’s Migration and Refugee Services (MRS), will host two unique events:

  1. Film screening of Refugee Kids, a documentary that tells the story of refugee children participating in a summer program in New York City.  The screening will take place on June 17 at 2:00 p.m. at Catholic University of America Gowan Auditorium.  Brief discussion of the film will follow.
  2. Locally resettled refugees will share their stories over food and drinks at Busboys & Poets Brookland on June 20 from 6:00-8:00 p.m.

More details on the events are available here. For those who cannot make the events, we hope you will join us in prayer for the world’s refugees on June 20.

University of San Francisco Creates Master Program in Migration Studies

The University of San Francisco (USF) has created the Master in Migration Studies program in response to the challenges of migration, a critical issue affecting many people across the globe.  The academic program exists in collaboration with Universidad Iberoamericana, the Jesuit university of Mexico City. Together they have created a program that seeks to “train professionals and researchers on the many perspectives involved in understanding migration and supporting the personal, social, legal and spiritual needs of migrants and refugees.”

With a focus on migration from Mexico and Central America, the program will offer students the opportunity to work with “top researchers, professors, project practitioners and policy  makers in both San Francisco and Mexico City” to build their skills in policy development, service to migrant communities, non-governmental organization work, and more.

Read more about the program in the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities November 2015 Connections newsletter.

How does your college or university address migration? Let us know! 

National Day of Prayer and Remembrance for Mariners and People of the Sea and Maritime Human Trafficking Information

In conjunction with the secular holiday National Maritime Day on May 23, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has announced that the U.S. Church will observe the annual National Day of Prayer and Remembrance for Mariners and People of the Sea. All are encouraged to pray for and remember all those “who are seafarers, fisherman, and those whose occupations require them to spend most of the year away from their families, in the high seas, and sometimes facing dangerous situations,” remarked Bishop J. Kevin Boland.

As 90% of the world’s goods are transported by sea and the waterways, it is important to remember the 1.2. million seafarers worldwide that make this possible. In addition to praying for and remembering them, we must also be aware of the harsh conditions and danger that they sometimes face.

According to the Coalition of Catholic Organizations Against Human Trafficking (CCOAHT):

modern slavery at sea […] occurs at all stages  of the seafood supply chain, from catching the fish to processing and shipping it for export. The virtually unregulated fishing industry in many countries, coupled with the global demand for cheap seafood, create the lawless condition under which trafficking at sea flourishes.

CCOAHT reports that trafficked workers are subject to extremely long work-days, hazardous conditions, starvation, disregard for medical needs and injuries, beatings, torture, and even killings. Workers can be lured into modern slavery “by false promises of living-wage and incur crippling debts that then become their trafficking situation,” and migrants are especially vulnerable.

The National Day of Prayer and Remembrance will include special Masses on Friday, May 20 at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C. at 12:00 p.m. and on Saturday, May 21 at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in D.C. at 12:10 p.m.. In addition, on Sunday, May 22, pastors are encouraged to use the text for the Votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Star of the Sea.

Below are three ways to get involved:

  1. Learn practical ways of becoming an ethical consumer of seafood.
  2. Learn about and join USCCB’s Migration and Refugee Services’ anti-trafficking efforts.
  3. Donate or take action with Apostleship of the Sea, an Catholic charity that seeks to “provide practical and pastoral care to all seafarers, regardless of nationality, belief or race.”
  4. Pray with us:

Our Lady, Star of the Sea, Mother of God and our Mother, you know all the dangers of soul and body that threaten mariners. Protect your sons and daughters who work and travel on the waters of the world, and protect also their families that await their return. Star of the Sea, Mother of the Church, give light and strength to those chaplains and lay ministers who bring the love of your Divine Son among mariners. Fill their hearts with a supernatural and life-giving zeal for the apostolate. Star of the Sea, light shining in the darkness, be a guide to those who sail amid the storms and dangers of life. Enlighten the hearts of ardent disciples and bring us all to the safety of heaven’s port. Amen. – Apostleship of the Sea

How does your college or university engage with anti-maritime trafficking efforts? Let us know! 

University of Scranton is ‘In Solidarity with Syria’

Although a recent ACCU Peace and Justice blog post featured three Catholic colleges and universities’ response to the Syrian refugee crisis, many other Catholic colleges have been working to assist refugees and advocate on their behalf.

The University of Scranton has been strongly committed to aiding refugees abroad and in the U.S., advocating for peace and for greater acceptance of refugees into the U.S., and educating its students about the crisis and inspiring them to act.  The campus initiative In Solidarity with Syria seeks to combine advocacy and educational efforts.

President Kevin Quinn, SJ, wrote an editorial urging compassion for refugees in the Scranton Times-Tribune last fall.  He also wrote a letter to federal elected officials urging the U.S. government to address the refugee crisis.  He noted that the University was exploring how to help Syrian students interested in further education in the United States, as well as how to help refugee families that settle in the local community.

University alumni have also been extensively involved in the efforts to assist refugees. For example, Bill Canny ’77, H’07, as the executive director of Migration and Refugee Services at USCCB, has been working with DOS and the local Catholic Social Services to work towards doubling the 100,000 refugee ceiling that the government has set for 2017.

Another alumna, Elena Habersky ’13, has lived in Amman, Jordan, where she started teaching English as a Fulbright scholar and is now the program and administrative manager of Collateral Repair Project, a nongovernmental organization that helps refugees. Read about her experiences in her article “Bearing Witness: Stories from the Holy Land,” featured in America Magazine.

Finally, the university has been working hard to educate students on campus about the refugee crisis. Led by Anitra McShea, Ph.D., the vice provost for student formation and campus life, In Solidarity with Syria has taken off in various directions. The initiative has brought to the university activities such as The Refugee Simulation, in which participants walk through five stations that simulate the typical refugee experience. Students are then encouraged to learn about and work with refugees in the local community.

The University has also encouraged deeper academic and informal discussions on the refugee crisis and has implored its students, staff, and faculty to, as Dr. McShea puts it, “utilize [their] gifts, talents and collective resources (intellectual, fiscal) to serve those marginalized and persecuted in our global community.”

How has your college or university responded to the Syrian refugee crisis? Let us know! 

Welcoming the Stranger: Catholic Colleges Respond to the Syrian Refugee Crisis

Twelve million.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, that is the estimated number of people currently affected by the conflict in Syria. As Professor Neha Agarwal of La Roche College commented during a campus activity focused on the refugee crisis, “It’s easy for us to picture 100 of something, but wrapping our heads around a number as staggering as 12 million is very difficult.”

Helping people in the United States imagine the sheer magnitude of the problem is only the beginning of what Catholic colleges and universities such as La Roche are doing in response to the Syrian refugee crisis.

During the 2015–16 academic year, ACCU member institutions have demonstrated their deep commitment to welcoming the stranger and educating their students, faculty, and staff on the importance of doing so. One manifestation of this commitment can be found at Niagara University. In conjunction with Catholic Charities of Buffalo and New York’s Immigration and Refugee Assistance Services, the university’s College of Hospitality and Tourism Management recently graduated its third cohort of 15 students from a program specifically for refugees. The eight-week Hospitality and Tourism Training Institute trains participants in skills that help them “pave a sustainable career path,” says Niagara University president Rev. James J. Maher.

Deborah T. Curtis, CMP, director of Niagara’s Edward A. Brennan Center for Language, Culture and Leadership, has been the energy behind the program since its inception. Under her direction, the program has graduated 37 refugees—women and men from around the world, ranging in age from 19 to 60. The program consists of morning lessons in hospitality and afternoon English language courses, as well as excursions to local hotels and tourist attractions. The students also engage in a two-week internship at a partnering hotel, after which they are offered positions either at the internship site or another local hotel. The Institute helps the students combine their new skills in hospitality and in the English language to create “an opportunity to move up,” Curtis says. Because the students all come to the United States as refugees, she adds, “by definition . . . they’ve had some serious hardships.”

Niagara University’s Deborah Curtis poses with a cohort of refugee students at Niagara Falls. Photo courtesy of Niagara University.
Niagara University’s Deborah Curtis poses with a cohort of refugee students at Niagara Falls. Photo courtesy of Niagara University.

Picture This

Other Catholic colleges are doing what Catholic colleges do: educating students about issues and grounding them in faith-based values. Last November, the La Roche College Office of Global Engagement collaborated with the college’s Design Division to focus part of International Education Week on the Syrian refugee crisis. The Refugee Experience event also was incorporated into the La Roche Experience (LRX), a required course sequence that introduces students to Catholic principles of peace and justice, diversity, and conflict prevention.

Asking students to imagine an equivalent to 12 million was one activity during the week. After design students drew selected visual representations of 12 million on a large poster, participants engaged in small-group discussion on the refugee crisis. Finally, all participants strung together a chain of 12 million pre-counted beads, each representing one person affected by the Syrian conflict.

Agarwal, chair of the La Roche graphic design department, explains that the goal of the program was to “come up with several equivalents to 12 million and visualize them in order to help viewers really understand the enormity of the situation.”

In addition to helping La Roche students grasp the magnitude of the refugee crisis, the program allowed participants to process the situation, as the students “opened up and felt confident enough to share their thoughts” in the discussion groups, she says. “In line with the college’s mission to promote peace, justice, and global citizenry,” Agarwal adds, the Refugee Experience program at La Roche has grown out of a commitment to preparing the college community to more actively and knowledgeably welcome the stranger and serve its neighbors.

Change of Plans

After a month of what should have been a two-month backpacking trip in the Mediterranean, Colleen Sinsky, a recent graduate of Santa Clara University, did something unexpected.

Her trek had taken her to Lesvos, a small Greek island where Syrian refugees had been stopping on their perilous journey to Europe. Sinsky decided to leave her traveling companion and travel to Lesvos after noticing Syrian refugees sleeping under a bridge, according to a university news article.

For the remainder of her time in Europe, Sinsky volunteered with A Drop in the Ocean, a rescue group from Norway. According to the article, Sinsky spent her days “helping refugees off boats… manning a lookout tower for boats in distress; providing tea, warm clothing, and a compassionate ear to refugees in the camp; cleaning beaches of castoff belongings,” and more.

After returning home, her experience in Lesvos inspired Sinsky to write about the experiences of the refugees on a blog titled, “I’d Rather Be Here Now.” Her goal is to “advocate for a more compassionate refugee resettlement program in the [United States] by humanizing the victims” of the Syrian conflict, Sinsky writes. She credits her education at Santa Clara with helping her “better understand the problem of labeling, scapegoating, and demonizing Muslims” and allowing her writing to “come to life with details and drama.”

Looking forward, she says, “I would like to incorporate storytelling for social justice into whatever it is that I do.”

Her time at Santa Clara University clearly shaped Sinsky’s ability to share her experiences living with refugees. And, as all these examples show, Catholic higher education is uniquely positioned not only to change students’ thinking about humanitarian crises, but also to help improve the lives of individuals around the globe.

Justine Worden is an undergraduate student at Georgetown University and the Peace and Justice Intern at the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.